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The most common insects infesting food in the home are in the insect orders Lepidoptera (moths) or Coleoptera (beetles). Adult moths and adult beetles are easy to distinguish from each other, but their larvae are a little more difficult to identify. Use a hand lens to examine the legs of the larvae. Beetle larvae are either grublike and legless or have only three pairs of legs, all located close to the head. Moth larvae have three pairs of true legs, plus additional leglike structures further down the abdomen. Both larvae and adults of beetles feed on foodstuffs, whereas only the larval stage of moths consumes stored products.
Life Cycle:The Indian meal moth is the most common food-infesting moth found in homes, grocery stores and any place where dried pet foods are produced or stored. It feeds on a large variety of stored food products, but home infestations often get started through dried pet food or birdseed. Nuts are a favorite breeding source; infestations have been found in nut caches of squirrels in attics and chimneys.The larva prefers coarse grades of flour, whole grains, cereal, dried fruits, seeds and spices. Foods infested with these insects will have silk webbing present, especially near the food surface.
Adult moths are nearly 1/2-inch long and have distinctive wing markings. The base of the forewing is pale grey and the outer two-thirds is reddish-brown with a coppery luster. They have a distinctive way of â€śrestingâ€ť on the wall at an angle with their wings folded. The larvae are generally dirty-white in color with shades of yellow, pink, brown or green. Mature larvae, which are about 1/2-inch long, usually move away from the feeding site before pupating within silken cocoons.When female Indian meal mothâ€™s are ready to breed, they emit a sex pheromone which only the male moths can smell.
This pheromone has been identified and synthesized and made into a lure that can catch male moths in a sticky trap. This is an ideal, non-toxic method of detecting the earliest signs of an Indian meal moth infestation and help pinpoint areas of activity. These lures attract males 25 to 50 feet away and last eight to 12 weeks. In a typical home environment, only one trap is often needed. These pantry pest sticky traps are available at many retail locations.
Damage:Pantry pests damage food by contaminating it with their bodies and their by-products. The larval stage of the Indianmeal moth produces frass (excrement) and webbing, and some beetle larvae produce secretions that give food a disagreeable odor and taste. Setae (hairs) from the warehouse beetle can irritate the mouth, throat, and stomach of people who eat infested products. In addition, pantry pests might introduce microbes into the food that could produce mycotoxins (highly carcinogenic compounds), especially if the food is stored in warm, humid conditions.
Preventing: The key to successful control is to find the source of infestation. Unless this is found, you will continue to see the insects. Finding insects in one area of the home does not mean the infestation is in that area. Many cereal pests can fly; therefore, you may see them in places distant from their breeding site. Pantry or stored product insects can feed on anything edible: cereals, various grains, crackers, spices, macaroni, dried fruit, chocolate, candy, nuts, dried peas or beans. Donâ€™t overlook pet foods such as bird seed, fish food, dog food and cat food.
Once you locate and eliminate all infested foods, the number of pests should decrease rapidly. Those you see will be adult beetles or moths looking for another food source in which to deposit their eggs. Store all pantry items in air-tight, hard plastic containers, jars, etc. Be sure to check cake mixes and other unopened items because they might also be infested.
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